The Arol Burns Mall at Fuller Seminary's Pasadena campus was filled with music and colorful decorations as the annual fiesta hosted by the Hispanic Center, the African American Church Studies department, and Office of Presbyterian Ministries welcomed new and returning students.
The program, which featured spoken word, worship, and art, was delivered in Spanish and English emphasizing the many students who have come to Fuller to complete their degrees in Spanish.
The Hispanic Center at Fuller Seminary, better known as Centro Latino, has been providing nearly 40 years of service to the Spanish-speaking church pastors and leaders, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Founded in 1974, Centro Latino is one of very few seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools that offers MA and MDiv degrees entirely in Spanish. While Fuller offers Spanish courses at three of its campuses--Pasadena, CA; Menlo Park, CA; and Houston, TX--its reach extends far beyond that.
"Historically, the program's focus has been local ministers in the greater Los Angeles area," said Dr. Juan Martinez, director of Centro Latino and associate provost for diversity. "What I define as 'greater Los Angeles' is west of Dallas, south of San Francisco, and north of Ensenada, Baja California. Those are the areas from which we've typically drawn students."
And that's not all. While many students are driving from Tijuana and Mexicali, others are flying in from Georgia, Florida, and even Spain.
Clementina Chacon (MDiv '10), who completed her degree program through Centro Latino, said she chose Fuller because of its commitment to the Latino community, and the research and resources for Latino students that the center provided.
"When I looked at other seminaries, I couldn't find any other that focuses on Latino leadership in the context of the specific needs of the church," said Chacon. She noted that she was also drawn to Fuller because of the grants available to those who are already doing ministry.
Additionally, Martinez says that part of the beauty of Centro Latino is the diversity among the students just within the program.
"Not everybody that comes through our program would self-identify as Latino, and that isn't a category we're that concerned about," Martinez says, noting that the center serves many Korean Latin Americans and African American students as well. "Our graduates come from many different ethnic, cultural and national backgrounds and are serving around the world. We are grateful that God has blessed the Center´s vision of preparing women and men to serve in a multicultural world."
Born out of the Seminaro Hispanoamericano, which existed in Los Angeles from the 1930s to 1962, Centro Latino has served as the hub for Spanish-speaking church leaders, who had not had access to theological education, to find a neutral place to connect with each other, and learn theology in a contextualized way. Now, that vision has grown to include students who do ministry in Spanish, but are academically more comfortable doing coursework in Portuguese, Korean, or English. Professors in Centro Latino are able to accept work in all of those languages.
Even further, that spirit of diversity and wide acceptance in the Hispanic Center has crossed denominational and community lines. The program boasts students from nine different denominations, and even students from the Catholic faith tradition, who, Martinez says, have come because they feel they don't have other places to pursue theological education in Spanish.
Centro Latino also embraces students throughout the Fuller community regardless of what program they are in. Pablo Kim (MA and MDiv '13) wasn't able to take any classes in Spanish while completing his degrees at Fuller, but his personal history led him to the Hispanic Center.
"I was personally very encouraged that there is a Hispanic department here because as a person who was born and grew up in Paraguay, it's a great joy to see other people speak Spanish and get to relate and hang around with them," Kim said. "Even though I did not have the opportunity to take classes [with Centro Latino], I did participate in the retreat and a few of the events and got to know them. It was very precious for me. Plus, as a person who grew up in a Korean context and Hispanic context and going to an international school, I always felt empty if one is lost. At Fuller, I could get the Korean, Hispanic, and English parts. It was very fulfilling for me."
To learn more about the Hispanic Center at Fuller, go here.